As part of her middle school volleyball team, my daughter needs a pair of navy blue spandex shorts to go with her uniform. While ordering them online, I asked her if she would like an extra pair for practice. She responded that the girls were not allowed to wear them to practice because they would distract the boys, who share the gym for after school practice.
This is just the latest example I’ve noticed of a double standard when it comes to school dress codes. Most of the restrictions fall on girls and seem to imply that girls’ dress is too sexually provocative. This is wrong on a number of fronts. First of all, it makes girls self-conscious about their bodies. When a first grader is told that her sundress is inappropriate and forced to cover up (houstonpress.com), she is getting the wrong signal about her body. Even older girls, who mostly just want to follow current fashion, are not trying to be sexually enticing. Furthermore, the stated intention of many of these rules is to avoid a distracting environment for boys. Such policies imply that boys are wild animals who can’t control themselves.
Girls and their parents are fighting back, however. For example, a high school student in Kentucky produced a film titled Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Code, which led her high school to reexamine its gender-biased dress code. Similarly, a group of middle schoolers in New Jersey started a campaign #IAmMoreThanADistraction to draw attention to the issue. (neatoday.org, 1/6/16) And parents at a Chicago area middle school protested that a ban on leggings and tight yoga pants was sending the wrong message to girls and excusing boys’ sexist or predatory behavior. (HuffPost, 3/19/14)
There’s nothing wrong with expecting students to dress appropriately for school or to disallow threatening or derogative messages on clothing. But issues of inappropriate dress should be handled on a case by case basis instead of applying wide-ranging, strict rules that unfairly target half of the student population.
The tight spandex shorts girls and women wear for volleyball help their movement and performance on the court. They are not made for the titillation of males. I’m not sure why, but my daughter’s coach backed down from his prohibition of spandex shorts at volleyball practice. After all, these same girls will be wearing the spandex as part of their team uniform during games. Why should that be deemed appropriate when the same garb at practice is not allowed?
I plan to attend my daughter’s games and cheer on the fabulous, athletic girls on her team. They will impress by their bumping, spiking, and setting, and not by their spandex.